Nine Lives (2016)

Posted by Joel Copling on August 4, 2016

The problem with "Nine Lives" is surely not the lack of a potentially worthwhile message. The egotistical businessman must humble himself or be humbled by the machinations of a supernatural occurrence in order to reconnect to humanity around him. It's a Dickensian tale, and the specific premise -- that the man is humbled by having his consciousness inserted into that of a feline counterpart -- is even kind of clever. There was room here for a pleasantly moralistic tale. Thanks to an unlikely army of five screenwriters, however, this is a tone-deaf, lazy comedy featuring a dead-on-arrival execution of that clever premise, some truly unfortunate visual effects work that never seems authentic, and an odd focus on a narrative that doesn't have an audience.

Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) is the egomaniac in question, the founder and chief executive in charge of some sort of New York City-based company that shares his surname as its title (perhaps a dig at a certain Presidental nominee?). He's abrupt and rude to his board members, of whom the conniving Ian Cox (Mark Consuelos) is the most fed-up of the lot, and inattentive to his family, including younger wife Lara (Jennifer Garner), son and assistant David (Robbie Amell), and precocious daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman), on whose birthday the events of the plot play out. The daughter wants a cat for her special day, but Perkins (Christopher Walken), the owner of a feline menagerie that uses the obvious pun on his surname for its title, places a curse on Tom that activates just as Cox is about to let the bigwig fall to his death.

If this sounds like a depressing affair, that's because it kind-of is, never approaching a balance between its intended zany energy and weirdly cruel events that serve only to interrupt it. It's also a dreadful film on a creative level. When Tom's conscience is transferred to the cat (named Mister Fuzzypants -- coincidentally, the last name you'll read that name), director Barry Sonnenfeld thankfully doesn't resort to having the cat's mouth move in that gross-looking way where it just seems to be a flap of skin on the bottom of the animal's chin. Unfortunately, he animates the cat during the moments when the feline no longer acts like a feline, playing a silly game involving a balloon with Rebecca and providing obvious hints (that are missed) to indicate that he has turned into a cat. The effects are never convincing, most apparently in a scene when the cat attacks Cox and neither of the human actors present seems to be interacting with anything onscreen.

The question of the film's audience comes into play by way of the thrust of the narrative itself, which involves the ongoing battle by Tom to beat a competitor in the title of tallest building in the world (and the early word is that he's losing to his Chicagoan rival by sixty feet). Much of the first half is taken up with monotonous dialogue discussing the financial ins-and-outs of making this happen, suggesting an early version of the screenplay that did away with the gimmick of Tom's proposed lesson to be learned. Kids will be bored to tears by this element, and adults will find the feline antics far too silly for their liking, especially considering how repetitive the motions become after a few minutes. Add in a climax that introduces a bit of outright audience contempt by way of tricking us into believing a suicide must be prevented, and "Nine Lives" is almost incorrigible.

Film Information

Kevin Spacey (Tom Brand), Jennifer Garner (Lara Brand), Robbie Amell (David Brand), Cheryl Hines (Madison Camden), Mark Consuelos (Ian Cox), Malina Weissman (Rebecca Brand), Christopher Walken (Felix Perkins), Talitha Bateman (Nicole Camden).

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and written by Matt Allen, Dan Antoniazzi, Gwyn Lurie, Ben Shiffrin, and Caleb Wilson.

Rated PG (thematic elements, language, rude humor).

87 minutes.

Released on August 5, 2016.